Living in France for over 3 years, and being an Indian, of course I do have the cravings sometimes for a nicely made Chicken Biriyani, Dal Makhani or a simple Rajma Chawal. Being a terrible cook, I have to rely on restaurants to satisfy my cravings.
Back home in India, eating out is a very common occurance for Indians. Food is cheap, and of such fine taste, a lot of people eat out almost everyday, counting in as well the hundreds of versions of snacks in the form of road-side eateries.
One of the first culture shocks I received upon coming to France is the complete absence of the ‘road-side’ foods. A road side food here would translate to Mc Donalds, or a donner kebab shop, and thats all. Though it’s a good thing for my waistline with the absence of public food stalls, I am robbed of the rich variety of tasty and delightful road side foods available every nook and corner in the Indian cities.
After saying all this, I decided to make a mention of a pet peeve that has been growing in me ever since I started exploring the Indian restaurants in France. Up until now, even after eating at all of the ‘popular’ restaurants in Gare du Nord, a popular locality in Paris crammed with Indian restaurants, I have failed to come across any single restaurant that I could say I was truly satisfied with. I have tried Anjappar, Krishna Bhavan, Saravana Bhavan to name a few of the popular ones. Each one of these restaurants, by the way, are branches of their main restaurants in India, and I have had the good fortune in eating there too. Such a marked difference in the tastes! Their branches in Paris really are a pale shade compared to how brilliant the food served in their main restaurant in India is.
I tried to understand the reason why even the ‘good’ Indian restaurants in France just don’t seem to get it. Now, with my seasoned eyes, when I look at any dish, I can somehow immediately tell it’s been prepared by a male chef. Only a male chef with no love for food, has been hired only the meagre money seeming good to him, could botch up even simple dishes with a mismatch of ingredients. Not that I have anything against male chefs. In India, male chefs are no problem. Most often, the tastiest road side eateries are prepared by men. But outside of India is a different story! Here’s a list of things I can’t stand about Indian restaurants in ‘phoren’ lands :
1. I have yet to come across an Indian restaurant in France (I exclude ‘Gandhi’ a high profile expensive Indian restaurant, the only decent one, with skyrocketing prices to match) with a pleasing exterior. It is sometimes even shocking to note how shabby both the exteriors and interiors can be. For the money spent by the owner in buying the space, and the equipment for the kitchen, planning out the menu etc, could the owner not have given a little more thought to make the restaurant look pleasing, welcoming and neater? In India, I have no problems with restaurant appearances, they really are so much nicer.
2. My earliest suspicions that chefs have been hired by owners who have NO idea of how to cook themselves, hence let the chef creates whatever he wants, almost turns into a confirmation with more passing time. Last evening I was at an Indian restaurant, that by online standards had been voted ‘good’ by French customers. When I entered the place, I was more than surprised to see a middle aged Indian lady standing at the entrance smiling at the customers. It’s rare to see women encouraging trade in the Indian restaurant business here in France. It was clear she was the owner’s wife and helping along with the kitchen at times. It’s such a good idea, I fell immediately for the trap thinking, ‘I can keep up my hopes that the meal here won’t be disappointing, after all a woman will know a thing or two about cooking since she has a family to look after too’. I ordered Dal Makhani, and the owner looked so confused trying to inform me the kind of lentils that went into it, I hurriedly changed the order to a ‘Dal Curry’ that was listed in the menu because he looked more confident about it. The entire meal experience was dismal to say the least! The owner and his wife were lovely people though and I chatted up with them a bit after dinner. I found out their cook is a male. I wasn’t surprised. Men who enter the profession of chefs with almost no training or knowledge, just the need to go abroad, with whatever job possible to be taken up. What I couldn’t understand is that this lady, a mother of two, and definitely preparing her own dishes at home, and surely having an idea or two of what Good indian Food looks like, couldn’t she have done a better job supervising over the chef?
3. Indian women have more patience preparing Indian food, because there is a LOT of ingredients that go into the making of Indian food, and only she knows what is the most approximate time needed for each ingredient to be cooked before adding the next one. Men, if they have no love for the professions, have no idea what they are doing. Another example, my husband ordered for chicken biryani. The biryani itself was a shame, with chicken used not being fresh (I have a sensitive nose for meat). The chef garnished the biryani using almond flakes. It may have been okay if he hadn’t toppled the whole jar of flakes over the biryani. It was a disgrace, a disgrace common to almost all ‘Overseas Indian Restaurants’.
If I have given the impression of being a nit-picky customer, I assure you I am not. it’s just that I have tasted some really good food back in India, and I feel so ashamed that people, in their hurry to go into the Indian food business overseas, just simply don’t do their homework before opening up. They dupe foreigners into believing this is what Indian food looks like. And sadly, going by the reviews of the French for certain Indain restaurants, they seem to believe this is the right place!